Hicks v. Northland-Smithville, WD85135

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtW. DOUGLAS THOMSON, JUDGE
Docket NumberWD85135
Decision Date29 November 2022

LATICE HICKS, Appellant,


No. WD85135

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

November 29, 2022


W. Douglas Thomson, Presiding Judge, Alok Ahuja, Judge and Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judge


Latice Hicks ("Hicks") appeals from the judgment ("Judgment") of the Circuit Court of Clay County ("trial court") granting Saint Luke's Northland-Smithville's ("Saint Luke's") motion for summary judgment on her claims of workers' compensation retaliation under the Missouri Workers' Compensation Law and hostile work environment under the Missouri Human Rights Act. Because Hicks' brief fails to substantially comply with the briefing requirements of Rule 84.04, her appeal is dismissed.[1]


Factual and Procedural History

In 2011, Hicks began working as a Licensed Practical Nurse at Saint Luke's. After that position was eliminated, she transitioned to the role of Behavioral Health Technician for a short time near the end of her employment. In November of 2015 and March of 2016, Hicks sustained work-related injuries requiring medical treatment and time away from work. Eventually, Saint Luke's terminated Hicks' employment in June of 2016, due to her failure to return to work or find an alternative position within the Saint Luke's Health System within a forty-five-day time period, pursuant to Saint Luke's employment policies. In June of 2017, Hicks filed the present Petition for Damages ("Petition") against Saint Luke's, alleging claims of hostile work environment, race discrimination, and worker's compensation retaliation. Saint Luke's denied all allegations in Hicks' Petition pertaining to each claim and asserted a separate counterclaim against Hicks for malicious prosecution. Thereafter, Saint Luke's moved for summary judgment as to all of Hicks' claims and its counterclaim. On January 4, 2022, the trial court entered its Judgment granting summary judgment to Saint Luke's on all of Hicks' claims and also as to the counterclaim asserted by Saint Luke's. Hicks now appeals the trial court's summary judgment ruling as to her claims of hostile work environment and workers' compensation retaliation.[2]


Rule 84.04 Briefing Deficiencies

Numerous deficiencies in violation of Rule 84.04 are contained within Hicks' brief. As a result, we are unable to reach the merits of this appeal.

The importance of adhering to briefing requirements has been explained as follows:

When counsel fail in their duty by filing briefs which are not in conformity with the applicable rules and do not sufficiently advise the court of the contentions asserted and the merit thereof, the court is left with the dilemma of deciding that case (and possibly establishing precedent for future cases) on the basis of inadequate briefing and advocacy or undertaking additional research and briefing to supply the deficiency. Courts should not be asked or expected to assume such a role. In addition to being inherently unfair to the other party to the appeal, it is unfair to parties in other cases awaiting disposition because it takes from them appellate time and resources which should be devoted to expeditious resolution of their appeals

Lexow v. Boeing Co., 643 S.W.3d 501, 505 (Mo. banc 2022) (quoting Thummel v. King, 570 S.W.2d 679, 686 (Mo. banc 1978)). Further,

"[c]ompliance with Rule 84.04 briefing requirements is mandatory in order to ensure that appellate courts do not become advocates by speculating on facts and on arguments that have not been made." "An appellant's failure to substantially comply with Rule 84.04 preserves nothing for our review and constitutes grounds for dismissal of the appeal." "This is particularly true where, as here, we cannot competently rule on the merits of [the Appellants'] argument without first reconstructing the facts . . . and then refining and supplementing [their] points and legal argument."

Sharp v. All-N-One Plumbing, 612 S.W.3d 240, 244 (Mo. App. W.D. 2020) (second and third alterations in original) (internal citations omitted) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Wallace v. Frazier, 546 S.W.3d 624, 626 (Mo. App. W.D. 2018)).

"Although this Court prefers to reach the merits of a case, excusing technical deficiencies in a brief, it will not consider a brief 'so deficient that it fails to give notice


to this Court and to the other parties as to the issue presented on appeal.'" Lexow, 643 S.W.3d at 505 (quoting J.A.D. v. F.J.D., 978 S.W.2d 336, 338 (Mo. banc 1998)). This is because "Rule 84.04 is not merely an exhortation from a judicial catechism nor is it a suggestion of legal etiquette." Shockley v. State, 579 S.W.3d 881, 917 n.9 (Mo. banc 2019) (citation omitted). Indeed, as the Missouri Supreme Court has recently reminded us, "[t]he appellate courts' continued reiteration of the importance of the briefing rules without enforcing any consequence 'implicitly condones continued violations and undermines the mandatory nature of the rules.'" State v. Minor, 648 S.W.3d 721, 728-29 (Mo. banc 2022) (quoting Alpert v. State, 543 S.W.3d 589, 601 (Mo. banc 2018) (Fisher, J., dissenting)). We begin by addressing the deficiencies found with her Points Relied On.

Points Relied On

The Points Relied On are an integral component of an Appellant's brief. "'The function of [points relied on] [are] to give notice to the opposing party of the precise matters which must be contended with and to inform the court of the issues presented for review.'" Id. at 727 (first alteration in original) (quoting Lexow, 643 S.W.3d at 505). "A deficient point relied on requires the respondent and appellate court to search the remainder of the brief to discern the appellant's assertion and, beyond causing a waste of resources, risks the appellant's argument being understood or framed in an unintended manner." Lexow, 643 S.W.3d at 505 (citation omitted). Rule 84.04(d)(1) states that each point shall:

(A) Identify the trial court ruling or action that the appellant challenges;
(B) State concisely the legal reasons for the appellant's claim of reversible error; and
(C) Explain in summary fashion why, in the context of the case, those legal reasons support the claim of reversible error.

The Rule provides a specific template of the form to which points must substantially adhere:

The point shall be in substantially the following form: "The trial court erred in [identify the challenged ruling or action], because [state the legal reasons for the claim of reversible error], in that [explain why the legal reasons, in the context of the case, support the claim of reversible error]."

Rule 84.04(d)(1). "'A point relied on which does not state "wherein and why" the trial court . . . erred does not comply with Rule 84.04(d) and preserves nothing for appellate review.'" Lexow, 643 S.W.3d at 505 (quoting Storey v. State, 175 S.W.3d 116, 126 (Mo. banc 2005)).

Here, Hicks brings two points on appeal, which state:
I. The trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Respondent on Appellant's claim for suffering injuries on the job as an employee, which were protected from discrimination.
II. The trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Respondent on Appellant's claim of retaliation in that Respondent forced Appellant to return to work before she had been released to return to work.

Hicks' first Point Relied On fails to conform to the template outlined in Rule 84.04(d)(1), stating neither the legal reason for her claim of reversible error nor why such legal reason, in the context of the case, supports her claim. Her second Point Relied On also fails to state any legal reason for her claim of reversible error. Accordingly, we are left to speculate what legal reason Hicks relies upon in seeking


the reversal of the trial court's actions. Further, we are left to speculate how such legal reason supports the claim of reversible error. This, we cannot do. "It is not proper for the appellate court to speculate as to the point being raised by the appellant and the...

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